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Disposing of Yard Waste

We’re heading into that time of year when fall yard cleanup is right around the corner.

Whether you decide to tackle clearing out dead plants, debris and branches in one whirlwind weekend or spread it out over a month, you’ll be faced with a pile of yard waste that needs to be dealt with.

And while most junk removal agencies’ prime focus isn’t picking up residential yard waste, there are lots of Chicagoland options to help you get your lawn and gardens ready for winter.

What Does the City Say About Yard Waste?

The City of Chicago defines yard waste as “leaves, grass clippings, branches, brush, clippings from shrubbery, and garden waste.” Their trucks will come to collect dedicated bagged leaves and other yard waste from residential properties, parkways, and storm drains.

What they don’t consider yard waste is dirt, rocks, or gravel. We’ll tell you the best way to dispose of these items a little further down this page.

Yard waste pickup is available in Chicago year-round, free of charge. From April 1st to the end of November, the Department of Streets and Sanitation sends out additional trucks specifically to collect yard waste. This type of refuse gets picked up every other week — on the same week your blue recycle cart is collected.

State law requires you to keep yard waste (grass, leaves, weeds, garden plants, and brush) separate from all regular garbage. This material is composted and spread on farmers’ fields to improve soil content.

Chicago Yard Waste Collection

All yard waste, including leaves, must be placed in a 95-gallon yard waste cart or a “Kraft” biodegradable paper bag. Plastic bags or metal bins are not appropriate containers to hold your yard waste.

Each bag of yard waste material needs a universal “Refuse” sticker placed on the bag for collection. Keep the bags’ weight limit to 50 lbs each.

As long as your yard waste is bagged separately from any garbage in the black cart and any recycling in the blue cart, you can leave it in the alley behind your house and/or by the curb in front of your house.

When it comes to collecting compostable materials, The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) allows municipalities throughout the state to approve one-day compostable waste collection events at “any site or facility within its territorial jurisdiction.” There’s a list of standard conditions included that need to be met to get approval for this event.

The event is limited to compostable waste (including leaves and yard trimmings) from private individuals, with not more than a total of 40 cubic yards of compostable waste collected at the event site at any one time.

CHI311 to the Rescue

A citywide non-emergency site has been developed to let you submit a request or report an issue for anything and everything related to keeping our city clean and safe. From a low water pressure complaint to requesting bee/wasp removal to booking a separate yard waste collection pickup.

Based on 311 requests, the city will pick up your yard waste and take it to a composting site. For even more convenience, you can download the CHI311 mobile app to create a new request and track the ones you submit.

311 Yard Waste Pick Up

When it comes to yard waste from trees, The Department of Streets and Sanitation (DSS) offers to come to help you with this specific type of yard waste. Use this service type to request a pickup of a pile of branches or bushes.

Check here to find your garbage, recycling, and yard waste collection schedule.

Yard Waste from Trees and Branches

Piles of tree branches approximately the size of two garbage carts or smaller are picked up by the yard waste collection crews. Larger piles should be listed on the CHI311 system as Tree Debris.

Any branches/bushes must be neatly stacked in the alley or near the curb. You may not block a street, sidewalk, or alleyway with this type of debris. When you request to have tree yard waste picked up, you’ll be asked if the amount is “larger than a desk” and where the debris is on your property.

Hauling Away Yard Waste

They’ll even come to trim your tree branches after a storm or if they’ve been damaged during a construction project. This type of service gets a first come, first served treatment during the spring to fall seasons. If the trimming constitutes a hazardous condition, they’ll make their visit a priority.

Christmas Trees

When it comes to getting rid of your Christmas trees, The Chicago Department of Streets and Sanitation (DSS) and the Chicago Park District run an annual tree recycling program at 25 locations citywide.

Live holiday trees can be dropped off inside tree corrals and turned into mulch and wood chips. This material will be used in Chicago Park Districts and the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District.

Disposing of a Christmas Tree

A special note from the City of Chicago. They request you NOT to rake leaves into the street and gutters. If you see leaves and debris on top of street drains or catch basins, please rake or sweep up and bag this debris, and dispose in the trash or compose in a yard. The debris blocking street drains and catch basins could clog the sewer structure.

Chicago is a great city, and between the DSS and CHI311, you’re part of a waste-management system that’s free and makes it easy and convenient for you to stay on top of getting rid of your yard waste.

Four Ways to Get Rid of Yard Waste

But if you have more yard waste than can be handled by the city or the DSS, we’ve researched four additional ways to move the waste from your yard to its appropriate forever home.

  1. Recycle your greens
  2. Haul it away
  3. Rent a dumpster
  4. Call a yard waste removal company

1. Recycle your greens

Chicagoans can also choose to compost at home. This is becoming a more popular way to deal with yard and/or food waste.

According to certified horticulturist George Weigel, early fall is the perfect time to start composting, especially when tree leaves start to drop. And if you do it right, it won’t produce a nasty smell or make a cozy home for rats and other vermin.

The key to creating compost is to have a mix of high-nitrogen and high-carbon materials. What’s the difference? High-nitrogen materials are green and damp, and high-carbon materials are usually brown and dry.

Piles that are too high in “browns” won’t compost unless you add in some nitrogen-rich greens, like pruned leaves, grass clippings, and fresh weeds. And if your compost pile stinks and looks slimy, you’ll want to mix in more browns, like dried leaves, straw, and pruned branches.

A Compost Pile

You’ll want to keep the ratio between high-nitrogen and high-carbon materials to twice as many browns as greens. At the very least, you can combine half browns and half greens.

Vermicomposting refers to a composting system where worms eat your food scraps, and the finished product becomes compost material. The best worm food is stuff that breaks down relatively quickly with reasonably high moisture content. It also needs a carbon-to-nitrogen ratio somewhere between 20:1 and 40:1.

When it comes to including yard waste in your vermicomposting, moistened grass clippings and weeds can work well, especially when you mix them with fall leaves. However, tough and woody materials such as branches don’t work as well with this type of composting because worms need “food,” like kitchen scraps, that will give them more nutrition.

2. Haul it away

When your yard waste collection gets bigger than you can reasonably bag and set by the curb, you may want to consider renting a truck or large pickup with a trailer and hauling it away yourself.

Midwest Compost is an IEPA-permitted disposal facility that lets you bring your yard waste (and clean wood waste) materials. They’ll let you bring a few bags or a whole dump truck into their yard.

A Pile of Yard Waste

They’ll take your unsorted:

  • Grass clippings
  • Leaves
  • Brush
  • Logs
  • Branches
  • Sod
  • Clean dirt

Midwest Compost has two facilities — one in Elgin and one in West Chicago.

Midwest Compost Elgin
1320 Spaulding Road
847-931-2900

Midwest Compost Chicago
1195 West Washington Street
630-876-8900

The IEPA also has a list of state compost facilities.

3. Rent a Dumpster

Renting a dumpster is also an option for large yards with lots of yard waste debris. Or if you want to have a neighborhood yard waste party where everyone brings their waste to one centrally-located dumpster that then gets carted away.

ASAP Site Services offers roll-off dumpster rental options in a range of sizes. They’ll park one in a convenient location and let you have it for 10 days before picking it up. Ideal if your yard waste includes larger tree branches.

A Rental Dumpster

Their fees are based on hauling and disposal rates and waste removal fees. When you specify your load will be recyclable (yard waste is included in that category), you’ll get a price break on the dumpster’s rental cost.

You can have a dumpster parked in your driveway without a permit, but you may need a permit to have one placed on the street in front of your house. Make sure to check with your clerk to see if a permit is necessary.

4. Call a yard waste removal company

You don’t have to look far to see that yard waste removal vehicles are out and about in our neighborhoods. Whether they’re driving a beat-up pickup truck loaded with big Kraft paper bags, someone towing a serious wood chipper on a trailer, or a professional company whose team members wear matching shirts with logos, what they drive doesn’t really matter as much as the quality of their work and the price they charge.

Calling a Yard Waste Removal Company

There are several ways to start your search:

  • Ask someone you trust for the name of a removal service they would hire again.
  • Contact your local gardening supply center for recommendations.
  • Google “yard waste removal company in Chicago” and view a company’s ratings and reviews.

Once you have one or two solid-seeming options, dig a little deeper to make sure they are reputable and reliable:

  • Check that the companies are insured, have the proper permits to dispose of yard waste, and are licensed as required by the municipality.
  • Ask how long they have been doing this kind of work and what their experience is.
  • Make a list of what jobs need to be done before you ask for a quote. This will let you compare apples to apples when you compare companies’ quotes.
  • Get at least three quotes — more is even better to understand the average cost of this service in your area.
  • Ask for (and check!) references.
  • Request a written contract for the specific work you need to be done and the cost.
  • Ensure you have discussed a contingency if the work turns out to be more than expected.

Questions to Ask

What else do you need to know before you hire a yard waste removal company?

  • Chicago has compost sites for yard waste with the intention the finished compost will be taken and spread on farmers’ fields. Will your yard waste go to these sites?
  • What kind of equipment will you bring to do the job?
  • Will your truck(s) damage my yard?
  • How long will the yard waste collection take? Will you continue to work on my project until it’s done, or will you be away to work elsewhere during the day(s)?

Hiring someone to do part or all of the seasonal yard cleanup and waste removal can add time to a homeowner’s life and reduce the hassle of transporting waste and the chance of blisters or a thrown-out back.

Yard Waste Removal

There are quite a few considerations when choosing to hire a contractor for the job, but it’s often worth it. As you make this decision, ensure you’re on the same page as the contractor regarding terminology and plans.

What Can Junk Relief Do For You?

While we don’t pick up yard waste in the Chicagoland area, we do remove almost anything from your yard that isn’t yard waste.

Railroad ties from your landscaping cleanup. Fences, decks, sheds, pergolas, and gazebos. Swingsets, hot tubs, pools. Even tires.

Taking Down a Fence

For all your junk relief, call or text us at 312-800-1940 for an instant quote, same-day service, and guaranteed pricing. Or go to any page on our website for a live chat or straight to the link to book online.

We’re here to serve you!

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Joe Weidman

Joe is a Chicago native, born and raised in Elmhurst. He founded Junk Relief more than 10 years ago and has worked with more than 20,000 homeowners and businesses throughout Chicagoland. His passion for starting a business in junk removal stemmed from seeing the need to do things differently. He prides himself on his company's model to provide unexpectedly professional service.

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